Two South Dakota health care workers began 2021 as fiancés and internet stars after footage of their pandemic era engagement went viral. 

A paramedic and EMS supervisor, Robbie Vargas-Cortes made an appointment at the Sanford Canton-Inwood Medical Center last month to receive his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. His boyfriend of five years, Eric Vanderlee, is a registered nurse and one of the center’s vaccine administrators. 

To Vanderlee’s surprise, however, Vargas-Cortes arrived at the Dec. 23 appointment with an engagement ring taped to his arm. Though it took him a moment to realize what has happening when he rolled back Vargas-Cortes’s shirt sleeve, Vanderlee happily accepted the proposal as his colleagues applauded. 

“It was just an amazing moment after I figured it out,” Vanderlee told CNN, noting that he still had to administer the vaccine to his fiancé after the big gesture. 

The Sanford Canton-Inwood Medical Center uploaded a short video of the proposal to its Facebook page last week. As of Monday afternoon, the clip had received more than 8,000 likes and garnered gushing responses from viewers. 

“Best proposal of the year, hands down,” one person wrote. Added another, “If you like it you should put a ring and vaccine on it! Congrats!! This is good news!”

Speaking to The New York Times, Vanderlee said he volunteered to help distribute the vaccine in December, just weeks after his 86-year old grandfather, Norman, died of COVID-19. “I want to be a part of this end,” he said. “I feel like I can’t pass this up. It’s like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be the one giving the vaccine if I have the chance.”

And though Vargas-Cortes had the ring for about three years, he said witnessing Vanderlee’s tenacity during the COVID-19 crisis convinced him that the appointment would be the perfect time to pop the question. 

“We’re nearing the end of the pandemic,” he told CNN. “The vaccine is kind of like a new chapter.”



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